Source: Debt Commission Fights Over Freezing Military Pay, Slashing Benefits

August 5, 2010 10:30 a.m.

Republicans would like you to think that Democrats have sinister plans for the post-election lame duck session of Congress, and Democrats are at pains to insist otherwise. But the one winter initiative progressives fear most is being crafted off the Hill by the White House’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Though most of the commission’s work occurs behind closed doors in small working groups, early reports indicate that the GOP’s unwillingness to support any significant tax increases are pushing the group toward proposed entitlement slashes and larger budget cuts.

And while Americans might expect that the commission would look at all spending, some members are seemingly using their positions to advance professional interests. A source familiar with the proceedings of the working group on discretionary spending tells TPM that some commissioners, including one military contractor, would prefer to save money by freezing military pay and scaling back benefits, rather than by eliminating waste in defense contracting.The source said that different members of the commission come down on different sides of the issue. The discussion group is led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), whose primary aim is trimming fat on the contractor side, but, according to the source, David Cote, the Honeywell CEO who was appointed to the panel by President Obama, is pushing to find savings elsewhere.

“Coburn raised concerns about all of the cost overruns and redundant weapons system,” the source told TPM. “Cote made excuses for it all.”

According to the source, Cote and other members, including the commission’s co-chair Alan Simpson, are focusing instead on “freezing military pay, making military people pay for their health care.”

“I don’t think there’s a division anywhere, and I don’t think you can pick up that sentiment, because I certainly haven’t,” Coburn told TPMDC yesterday. “Nothing’s off the table.”

On mandatory spending issues, according to the aide, things are shaping up similarly. “We spent all but 10 minutes on benefits cuts and spent 10 minutes on raising the wage caps.” Though tax hikes aren’t gaining traction, the group is discussing ways to close loopholes, end exemptions, deductions, credits, etc. to limit tax expenditures.

Cote was not immediately available for comment through Honeywell’s corporate offices.

The commission’s report is due by December 1. House Democrats have committed to voting up or down on the package if the Senate passes it first.

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